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Ronald Reagan
First Inaugural Address, 1981
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Senator Hatfield, Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. President, Vice President
Bush, Vice President Mondale, Senator Baker, Speaker O'Neill,
Reverend Moomaw, and my fellow citizens: To a few of us here
today, this is a solemn and most momentous occasion; and yet,
in the history of our Nation, it is a commonplace occurrence. The
orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution
routinely takes place as it has for almost two centuries and few
of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many
in the world, this every-four-year ceremony we accept as normal is
nothing less than a miracle.

Mr. President, I want our fellow citizens to know how much you
did to carry on this tradition. By your gracious cooperation in the
transition process, you have shown a watching world that we are
a united people pledged to maintaining a political system which
guarantees individual liberty to a greater degree than any other,
and I thank you and your people for all your help in maintaining
the continuity which is the bulwark of our Republic.

The business of our nation goes forward. These United States
are confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions.
We suffer from the longest and one of the worst sustained
inflations in our national history. It distorts our economic decisions,
penalizes thrift, and crushes the struggling young and the
fixed-income elderly alike. It threatens to shatter the lives of
millions of our people.

Idle industries have cast workers into unemployment, causing
human misery and personal indignity. Those who do work are
denied a fair return for their labor by a tax system which penalizes
successful achievement and keeps us from maintaining full

But great as our tax burden is, it has not kept pace with
public spending. For decades, we have piled deficit upon
deficit, mortgaging our future and our children's future for the
temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long
trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political,
and economic upheavals.

You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond
our means, but for only a limited period of time. Why, then,
should we think that collectively, as a nation, we are not
bound by that same limitation?

We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let
there be no misunderstanding?we are going to begin to act,
beginning today.

The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several
decades. They will not go away in days, weeks, or months, but
they will go away. They will go away because we, as Americans,
have the capacity now, as we have had in the past, to do
whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest
bastion of freedom.

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our

From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that
society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule,
that government by an elite group is superior to government
for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable
of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to
govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government,
must bear the burden. The solutions we seek must be equitable,
with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.

We hear much of special interest groups. Our concern must be
for a special interest group that has been too long neglected.
It knows no sectional boundaries or ethnic and racial divisions,
and it crosses political party lines. It is made up of men and
women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man our mines
and our factories, teach our children, keep our homes, and heal
us when we are sick?professionals, industrialists, shopkeepers,
clerks, cabbies, and truckdrivers. They are, in short, "We the
people," this breed called Americans.

Well, this administration's objective will be a healthy, vigorous,
growing economy that provides equal opportunity for all Americans,
with no barriers born of bigotry or discrimination. Putting America
back to work means putting all Americans back to work. Ending
inflation means freeing all Americans from the terror of runaway
living costs. All must share in the productive work of this "new
beginning" and all must share in the bounty of a revived economy.
With the idealism and fair play which are the core of our system
and our strength, we can have a strong and prosperous America
at peace with itself and the world.

So, as we begin, let us take inventory. We are a nation that has
a government?not the other way around. And this makes us
special among the nations of the Earth. Our Government has
no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check
and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of
having grown beyond the consent of the governed.

It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal
establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction
between the powers granted to the Federal Government and
those reserved to the States or to the people. All of us need
to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create
the States; the States created the Federal Government.

Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it is not my intention
to do away with government. It is, rather, to make it work?
work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our
back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother
it; foster productivity, not stifle it.

If we look to the answer as to why, for so many years, we
achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it
was because here, in this land, we unleashed the energy and
individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been
done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have
been more available and assured here than in any other place
on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but
we have never been unwilling to pay that price.

It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and
are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives
that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government.
It is time for us to realize that we are too great a nation to limit
ourselves to small dreams. We are not, as some would have us
believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate
that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate
that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy
at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us
renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let
us renew our faith and our hope.

We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say
that we are in a time when there are no heroes just don't know
where to look. You can see heroes every day going in and out
of factory gates. Others, a handful in number, produce enough
food to feed all of us and then the world beyond. You meet
heroes across a counter?and they are on both sides of that
counter. There are entrepreneurs with faith in themselves and
faith in an idea who create new jobs, new wealth and opportunity.
They are individuals and families whose taxes support the
Government and whose voluntary gifts support church, charity,
culture, art, and education. Their patriotism is quiet but deep.
Their values sustain our national life.

I have used the words "they" and "their" in speaking of these
heroes. I could say "you" and "your" because I am addressing
the heroes of whom I speak?you, the citizens of this blessed
land. Your dreams, your hopes, your goals are going to be the
dreams, the hopes, and the goals of this administration, so
help me God.

We shall reflect the compassion that is so much a part of
your makeup. How can we love our country and not love our
countrymen, and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall,
heal them when they are sick, and provide opportunities to
make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not
just in theory?

Can we solve the problems confronting us? Well, the answer
is an unequivocal and emphatic "yes." To paraphrase Winston
Churchill, I did not take the oath I have just taken with the
intention of presiding over the dissolution of the world's
strongest economy.

In the days ahead I will propose removing the roadblocks
that have slowed our economy and reduced productivity. Steps
will be taken aimed at restoring the balance between the
various levels of government. Progress may be slow?measured
in inches and feet, not miles?but we will progress. Is it time
to reawaken this industrial giant, to get government back within
its means, and to lighten our punitive tax burden. And these
will be our first priorities, and on these principles, there will be
no compromise.

On the eve of our struggle for independence a man who might
have been one of the greatest among the Founding Fathers,
Dr. Joseph Warren, President of the Massachusetts Congress,
said to his fellow Americans, "Our country is in danger, but not
to be despaired of.... On you depend the fortunes of America.
You are to decide the important questions upon which rests the
happiness and the liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of

Well, I believe we, the Americans of today, are ready to act
worthy of ourselves, ready to do what must be done to ensure
happiness and liberty for ourselves, our children and our
children's children.

And as we renew ourselves here in our own land, we will be
seen as having greater strength throughout the world. We will
again be the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for
those who do not now have freedom.

To those neighbors and allies who share our freedom, we
will strengthen our historic ties and assure them of our support
and firm commitment. We will match loyalty with loyalty. We will
strive for mutually beneficial relations. We will not use our
friendship to impose on their sovereignty, for our own
sovereignty is not for sale.

As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential
adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest
aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it,
sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for it?now or ever.

Our forbearance should never be misunderstood. Our
reluctance for conflict should not be misjudged as a failure
of will. When action is required to preserve our national
security, we will act. We will maintain sufficient strength to
prevail if need be, knowing that if we do so we have the best
chance of never having to use that strength.

Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon
in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and
moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our
adversaries in today's world do not have. It is a weapon
that we as Americans do have. Let that be understood by
those who practice terrorism and prey upon their neighbors.

I am told that tens of thousands of prayer meetings are
being held on this day, and for that I am deeply grateful.
We are a nation under God, and I believe God intended for
us to be free. It would be fitting and good, I think, if on each
Inauguration Day in future years it should be declared a day
of prayer.

This is the first time in history that this ceremony has been
held, as you have been told, on this West Front of the Capitol.
Standing here, one faces a magnificent vista, opening up on
this city's special beauty and history. At the end of this open
mall are those shrines to the giants on whose shoulders
we stand.

Directly in front of me, the monument to a monumental man:
George Washington, Father of our country. A man of humility
who came to greatness reluctantly. He led America out of
revolutionary victory into infant nationhood. Off to one side,
the stately memorial to Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of
Independence flames with his eloquence.

And then beyond the Reflecting Pool the dignified columns
of the Lincoln Memorial. Whoever would understand in his
heart the meaning of America will find it in the life of Abraham

Beyond those monuments to heroism is the Potomac River,
and on the far shore the sloping hills of Arlington National
Cemetery with its row on row of simple white markers bearing
crosses or Stars of David. They add up to only a tiny fraction
of the price that has been paid for our freedom.

Each one of those markers is a monument to the kinds of hero
I spoke of earlier. Their lives ended in places called Belleau
Wood, The Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno and halfway around
the world on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin
Reservoir, and in a hundred rice paddies and jungles of a place
called Vietnam.

Under one such marker lies a young man?Martin Treptow?who
left his job in a small town barber shop in 1917 to go to France
with the famed Rainbow Division. There, on the western front,
he was killed trying to carry a message between battalions
under heavy artillery fire.

We are told that on his body was found a diary. On the flyleaf
under the heading, "My Pledge," he had written these words:
"America must win this war. Therefore, I will work, I will save,
I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my
utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me

The crisis we are facing today does not require of us the kind
of sacrifice that Martin Treptow and so many thousands of
others were called upon to make. It does require, however, our
best effort, and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to
believe in our capacity to perform great deeds; to believe that
together, with God's help, we can and will resolve the problems
which now confront us.

And, after all, why shouldn't we believe that? We are Americans.
God bless you, and thank you.

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